Bubba Wallace on Monday became just the second Black driver in the history of NASCAR to win a race at its highest level of competition, driving to victory in a rain-shortened YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
With his first Cup Series win, Wallace joins Wendell Scott as the only Black drivers to accomplish the feat; Scott was the first, winning the 1964 Jacksonville 200 on Dec. 1, 1963.
The significance of the moment wasn’t lost on Wallace, especially considering the Mobile, Ala. native earned his first win on his hometown track, where a year ago he experienced what he called a hurdle in his racing career that he had to climb over. Wallace, in a postrace interview with NBCSN, was clearly emotional when asked to reflect what the win meant for him:
“I never think about those things. And when you say it like that it obviously brings a lot of emotion, a lot of joy to my family, fans, friends,” Wallace said. “It’s pretty damn cool. I’m just proud to be a winner in the Cup Series.”
Wallace didn’t shy away from his recent history at the racetrack, either. Though it wasn’t mentioned explicitly in the postrace interview, Wallace won at Talladega over a year after an incident in which a rope shaped like a noose was found hanging in his garage ahead of the June 2020 race there. The FBI ruled out a hate crime after investigating the incident; NASCAR said the rope had been hanging in the garage since October 2019.
Regardless, the incident sparked outrage and generated dialogue about issues of racism in NASCAR. Wallace, who was shown solidarity by his fellow NASCAR drivers after the incident, is the only current Black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, and the first since Bill Lester in 2006.
Wallace said it was a significant victory following the events of last year.
“Yeah, for sure,” Wallace said. “This is for all those kids out there that want to have an opportunity in whatever they want to achieve, and be the best at what they want to do. And you’re going to go through a lot of bulls—. But you’ve always got to stay true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you. And stay strong, stay humble, stay hungry.
“There have been plenty of times where I wanted to give up. You surround yourself with the right people, and it’s times like this that you appreciate.”